Live Patient Exams in Massachusetts – Hirad Zafari (Harvard ’21)

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From L to R: Dr. Mike Mayr (BU ’16) Dr. Claire McCarthy (Tufts ’15) Hirad Zafari (Harvard ’21) Dr. Neil Patel (Tufts ’15) Dr. Monica Stiteler (BU ’17)

Last month, I had the unique opportunity to testify at the State House in an effort to bring an end to live patient exams as part of dental licensing in Massachusetts. Alongside four recent dental graduates from Tufts and BU, we expressed our concerns with the current licensure model to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection & Professional Licensure.

Our message was simple: live patient exams are unethical, and have no place in medical training. Our concerns included the common practice of deferring treatment so that patients can qualify for licensure exams, coercion and extortion of dental students on this stressful day, and the overall immorality of using human subjects for the purpose of discovering dental student incompetence.

In fact, dentistry is the only medical profession that still requires a live patient component as a condition of licensure – but this has been gradually changing across the country. In 2011, the American Dental Association passed a resolution pushing for the elimination of this component by 2015. Although we still have a lot of work to do, a handful of states – including New York, California, Minnesota, and Iowa – have already adopted this change.

When we consider that nearly 350 students graduate from dental school in Massachusetts each year, it emphasizes the volume of patients that are affected by this yearly.

The committee seemed genuinely interested in the bill and, although it may take months before they vote, this is a major step in the right direction.

As dentists, we must uphold the highest ethical standards for our patients. It should be no different while we are in dental school.

If you want to learn more or get involved, please email me at hirad_zafari@hsdm.harvard.edu.

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